South African blueberry production shoots up a quarter
November 27, 2014

The South African blueberry industry is forecasting a sharp increase in national production this season, and significant new plantings look set grow the sector incrementally over the coming years. blues10

South African Berry Producers’ Association (SABPA) chairperson Ryan Davies told the total crop would likely be around a quarter larger year-on-year.

“The expected harvest for the season is 2,600kg, approximately 24% more than last season,” Davies said.

Three quarters of the total crop is destined for export, with 15% headed for the domestic market and the remaining 10% to be used by the processed sector.

Davies said the crops were generally shaping up well and ‘should exceed expectations’.

The season came early for roughly 70% of South African blueberry growers, many of whom were situated on the southern and western provinces. The opposite seems to be true for a lot of growers in other regions.

“The northern and eastern parts of the country have had unseasonal weather and this has delayed the crop for these growers,” Davies said.

He added unseasonal rainfall could cause some harvest delays and minor quality problems for producers not using tunnels to grow their fruit, as was the case last year.

“The establishment of orchards is very expensive comparatively and developmental funding is limited,” Davies said.

“The fact that berries are a minor crop and a growing category has as a consequence limited support from government and commercial agriculture. Dominant players in the industry are left to address the main challenges.

“Given the high value of the crop and the potential market opening up in the east, this is changing.”

There are currently around 600 hectares of blueberry growing land that are in production, and new hectarage is being planting rapidly.

“Including new plantings in the current year this figure is expected to reach 800 hectares, growth of 35% in plantings by next year,” Davies said.

“This growth has been driven by expansion of the dominant local blueberry grower group and the entry into the country of three international growers not previously represented.”

Barring any external factors the area under cultivation ‘could treble’ in the next five years.

The SABPA chairperson also noted an industry trend moving toward early, lower chill and high yielding cultivars in an effort to move the South African season earlier in the year.

However, he said access to cultivars was tightly controlled and all plant material development occurred outside of the country.

In terms of export markets, the U.K. continues to receive the biggest volumes from South Africa, where growers supply many of the large retail chains.

“This is a direct result of the influence of UK-based growers and marketers playing a major role in establishing the industry in South Africa,” Davies said.

“Marketing channels to other destinations are well-defined, and  blueberries are becoming more available to marketing channels to other regions.”

“The potential of the eastern markets remains a focus point.”

The South African blueberry season traditionally kicks off in September and runs through to mid-February.


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